Warning: this blog post was extremely difficult to write, and took a while to make it into words. I started writing this on Wednesday, September 9th, and I’m just pressing publish now.
Before I continue, I want to be clear that I’m not sympathy-gathering. I’m not trying to blame people. I’m not trying to compete in a “my life is so hard” contest. I’m just looking to heal, so I’m sharing a story, a long story. This is an overview of everything, and there are some painful memories. I’ve shared parts of these stories with people, but I don’t know who knows the whole story, other than myself.
Feel free to skip this post if you don’t want to deal with it, I will categorize this post and any posts directly related to it as “Painful Stuff” so you can easily identify them. I don’t blame you for not wanting to go through this. But I need to. End of warning.
I’m still having difficulty blogging. I keep trying to return, I post a couple of weak little things, and then I fade away again. After three such returns, it’s safe to call it a pattern.
And it’s a pattern that I really want to break, as I miss blogging regularly. The catharsis of words, the self-organization involved in reviewing thoughts and putting them into a coherent communication, being able to play with the ideas and humor and rhythm and pacing… But I stopped, and I didn’t stop suddenly. Life got hard and I stopped reviewing my thoughts before putting them here.
I started posting hurtful things.
When I realized that, I just stopped posting altogether, to avoid hurting anyone any more than I already had. I like to think I hadn’t hurt anyone directly in my blog posts, but I had.
So, it’s a self-censorship that I’ve brought on because life got horribly hard, and it stayed horribly hard for a horribly long time. The phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” figures into it all more than a little.
I used to live for blogging. I used to get home from work and sit on the couch, cat on my lap, and blog while waiting for my father to get home.
We both worked second shift, so we would go out to the bar at about 22:30 or 23:00 and have two or three beers as father and son. Then we’d come home at bar close and have some pizza rolls or home-grilled hamburgers and watch music videos. Sometimes a few friends would come over, sometimes it was just us.
There were times we had full-out after-bar parties, other times just a relaxing evening in the garage listening to music and maybe even having a fire.
But we were a collected family by association.
Then, in the late 90s, some unsavory people started coming over. They started locking the bathroom and doing lines of coke or smoking meth. Unknown people came over and would get into fights. Food would disappear. Personal belongings would disappear. The good friends stopped coming by.
I stopped a fight in the dining room one night, and that pushed me too far. People were moving the dining table out of the way when I stepped in-between two people I didn’t recognize, and when Dad came in and shut it down I felt like he blamed me. He hadn’t, but he hadn’t really stood up for me. I moved out for six months. I ended up running up some debt due to a problematic roommate.
After the six-month lease was up I asked my Dad and he welcomed me back to the house, but things were different. The after-bar parties were done. In fact, the visits to the bar just seemed habit. We would go out just to visit friends.
Sometime in mid-2002, Dad started having horrible headaches. The word “migraine” isn’t sufficient, but gives a framework. These headaches kept him awake constantly, completely removed anything resembling an appetite, made him sensitive to everything. He stopped enjoying anything. He started missing work. He went to doctors and no one could find anything wrong, because “migraines” are a mystery, or at least they were more of a mystery at the time this was happening. So, he had to suffer, but he did so and didn’t lose his sense of humor. He became a little more withdrawn, but he kept on going through it.
While this was happening at home, work had changed. My department had been dismantled and taken over by a single client. This client introduced policies I found questionable, such as pushing sales into technical support. It didn’t start all at once, but little creeping changes. Like denying support for things without troubleshooting, or recommending a new purchase instead of fixing the issue. Later it became a ruling that something was caused by the user and not a failure of the computer/printer/monitor/device and, thus, voiding the caller’s warranty, with little investigation.
This continued until I felt like I was lying to the callers, that every call was a reason to deny a repair, not a puzzle to investigate and attempt to fix. I couldn’t, in good conscience, continue.
I had a couple of friends working elsewhere that said there were openings at another company, so I passed over my resume and was told they were interested.
I, being young and dumb, had taken interest as a promise of hiring. So, we had negotiated a date for me to come in and interview, through my friends, and I gave my notice.
At home, my father wasn’t doing very well at all. After a couple of near-sleepless weeks, he had missed enough work that they required a doctor’s note or they were going to “invoke disciplinary actions” or some other corporate-speak.
So, when my notice was up, I was unemployed, waiting for the day to come to interview, and my father scheduled a visit to the doctor he was seeing just to get a note for work.
The next morning I was woken by someone telling me my father was in the hospital. He had an aneurysm in the parking lot at the airport.
In fact, it had probably been the fact that he was at the airport that gave him a chance, as it was airport parking ramp security that noticed his car slowly veer into another parked car and subsequently found him incoherent in the driver’s seat. They called emergency services and an ambulance was dispatched immediately.
The airport has a direct-route to the hospital, so he was in the operating room as soon as physically possible.
They were able to stop the bleed and put in a stint, but the bleed had been pretty bad. It was near his Broca’s Region, so they induced a coma to reduce pressure and give his body a chance to heal.
The following weeks were a blur. I was unemployed but hopeful, then I found out there was a hiring freeze that went into effect the day I left my previous job, so there would be no interview.
I spent my days notifying credit card companies of my father’s situation and putting holds on accounts, calling bill collectors to set up alternate methods of payment, going through unemployment applications and sending out job applications everywhere. I walked to every retailer within reach of the house and just blanketed them with applications. I went out to the Mall of America and filled out applications at every shop I could stomach walking into.
I remember that time as the longest stretch of time ever experienced by a human being, but logically it couldn’t have been more than a month, perhaps two.
I do know he had been in a coma through his birthday, and had missed a Santana concert he had been looking forward to, tickets that Ticketmaster wouldn’t refund even for an extreme medical emergency.
But I visited the hospital daily and kept scrambling to make sure everything was covered. Nightly, I visited the bar and kept his friends updated on his progress, and some of them visited him to make sure his spirits stayed up.
I’m still not sure how long it all took. I can look at calendars. I can see dates. I can plot out charts for milestone events. But it’s all just numbers and words and scribbles.
I do remember one event very clearly. One day, nearing the end of his stay in the hospital, he got a day pass to go to the house and spend some time out of the hospital. He wanted some junk food, he wanted to watch TV in his chair, and he wanted to just not be there.
So I came in with a change of clothes for him, bluejean knee-shorts and a black shirt with white text that read: “I did NOT escape, I have a day pass!”
He loved it.
We went to McDonald’s, which he usually hates, and he ate more than a couple burgers and every last fry. He puttered around the house. He watched TV. After a few short hours I brought him back to the hospital and I was sad, but he was happy. As I reluctantly walked out, I heard him regaling the nurse with stories of his day out. I thought the day was boring. He thought it was amazing.
Eventually Dad came home. He kept going back to receive physical and other therapy. It became apparent that he did suffer some damage to his Broca’s Center. He had difficulty finding the right word for ideas and concepts, or for finding synonyms and antonyms for words. He could read a definition for a word and not comprehend what it meant. He would know what he wanted to say and just not get the word out.
To say he was frustrated is an understatement of almost criminal intent. From his perspective, he lost the ability to be sure that what he said was what he intended. He lost the trust he had in his own brain. He became quieter, a cheerleader in the background, a strong rock to support others, but whatever outgoing impulses he had earlier were gone.
While he was going through therapy, his employment was terminated. There’s no other word for it, and even the word “terminated” seems too polite and friendly. They just cut him free. He spent fifteen years at that job, working fifty or sixty hour weeks when the need arose, but when he suffered this debilitating event, they just ended his employment. They had reset his seniority when his title had changed or he received a raise, so when it came down to it, he had only a two-year history of employment, despite the fact that he had been there for fifteen years.
My father didn’t blame his supervisor. He didn’t blame anyone out there. He did blame corporate.
But he picked himself up, brushed himself off, and started looking for a job. We spent his savings and maxed out most of his cards to survive.
All this time, I was unemployed and not having any luck. It had been almost a year since I had a job, and I couldn’t even get a job at McDonald’s, because if I included my job history I was over-qualified, if I tailored my job history for the position I was going for I didn’t have enough detail to make a decision. I was losing hope. Somehow I stumbled across an old friend who got me an interview.
I was losing my mind a little in worry. I forgot to confirm the interview. I just showed up.
And I was shocked by who came in – my supervisor from the previous job, before everything had been reorganized and thoroughly screwed up. (As an important aside: things didn’t get screwed up until he was encouraged out.)
The interview was pathetic, and I left sure that I was going to remain unemployed.
And then I got a call back with an offer for part-time employment. I started taking over some of the bills, and started working harder and harder, eventually earning full-time employment, then a promotion.
During this time, Dad was trying. He got a couple of part-time jobs that didn’t last, we purchased a prep book so he could renew his boiler certification, but none of it was enough.
He applied for Social Security benefits. He got a lawyer who was willing to work pro-bono for him. It took a long time, at least a year, but he won, with back payments.
When he announced this and told me that he could take back over all the bills and I could get back to whatever, and something inside my head snapped.
I lost my mind. Or, rather, I lost all control over my mind.
And to my greatest shame, I lashed out at him.
All of the pain and the worry and the fear and anger of the previous three years. All of it.
And he was still my Dad, with the damage to his Broca’s Region, who couldn’t find words to get him through ideas. And he got the brunt of it all.
I moved out, angrily. I didn’t understand, wouldn’t understand. He tried to talk to me, but he always ran out of words shortly after saying my name. Through no fault of his own, but one of biology.
I got an apartment by myself, but kept going back on weekends. After a couple of months I was able to regain some equilibrium and calm, but things that had been damaged were lost. My father was a broken man, and no one would tell me because they didn’t want to burden me.
But these people had seen how we had come out of our post-aneurysm difficulties and how we had established ourselves again, and, while he never did it when I was around, he proudly proclaimed it was because of me.
I didn’t find this out until recently, and only by piecing things together.
My anger and arrogance at the time blinded me. And my father knew I needed time to cool off and find myself. But I broke him.
After being at that apartment for about six months, we had dinner somewhere, and my father told me he had found a lump in his throat. He was working with the VA to have it checked out. He told me that some of the tests and things required that he have a ride, and I eagerly offered to find a way to get him to any and all tests he needed to go to.
My supervisor, who had been promoted to my manager, agreed to whatever was needed. He had come over for barbecues in the yard, had witnessed my father’s generosity with burgers and sauce and everything, and wouldn’t refuse our need.
We found out two months later that he had cancer in his lymph nodes, and that an operation wouldn’t be enough. He’d have to have the lymph node removed and go through a very hard course of chemotherapy, three sessions of extremely powerful stuff, along with periodic radiation.
He didn’t lose his hair, but he lost his appetite and his energy. After each course, he was in bed for a week. Everything tasted horrible. Everything made him feel horrible. He just… Existed.
I took him to the VA every chance I could. I stayed at the house often, ignoring my apartment, but paying the bills. Life was just a day-by-day march into the future.
I got a panicked call at work one day that he had been rushed to the VA after they found him collapsed in his bedroom. He hadn’t been seen for an entire day, and the neighbors suspected something when they saw his garbage cans hadn’t been taken in.
I remember another thing, clearly. I got to the VA, met the neighbor, and we went up to see him. And while the neighbor was bickering with the attendant, I looked over the heads of the people and saw Dad. And he saw me. And he broke out in the largest smile…
I started staying at the house all the time, and the neighbors would come over while I was at work.
I became the news-bringer for friends. I would go out to the bars he went to and let people know how he was doing.
My father got his final chemo treatment, and he made me promise that if this didn’t get the cancer we wouldn’t keep going with this chemo. I agreed, but weakly.
We talked about the final Harry Potter movies. My Dad’s favorite character was Hagrid. I promised that we would go see the movies as soon as they were out.
Then, at work, I got a cold. My father caught that cold. One morning he couldn’t wake me, so he called a friend. I came down in time to hear them arguing about getting him to the VA.
I got dressed quickly and drove him out. He was passing in and out of consciousness in the car, the argument from earlier had tired him out.
We got him into the hospital bed and I sat with him for a while, and he started to relax. After most of the day was done, I told him I would come back in the morning, that I had to go to work, and he nodded and smiled.
I don’t know why I went to work. I just stared at walls, or tinkered with things that didn’t need tinkering.
I eventually went home, exhausted, and went to the bar to let people know.
And I got woken by my phone alerting me to a voice mail. I had received a call from the VA – no specifics, just a request to come in.
After they told me my father had passed in the night of hypoxia due to the pneumonia, calls were made. I stupidly tried using my cell phone, but the call disconnected while I was trying to tell my brother. I found the wall phone they told me to use in the first place, and called back to a busy signal. I called my aunt.
I was lost. Somehow things came together. People mobilized. My brother appeared. Memorial happened. Barbecue cooked. Belongings handled.
Sometime in there I moved back into the house and out of my apartment.
Then things became a question of how to handle his estate. Dad had tried to write a will on at least four different occasions, but things didn’t pan out.
I got Maddy to keep me company, because being alone was more than I could bear. She had previously lived with one of my Dad’s friends, but she was too energetic for the small apartment he lived in. A few months later I got Psykhitty, because Maddy was going insane while I was at work.
While I was trying to hire a lawyer to go to probate, I lost my job. The manager that had been so understanding throughout everything had been encouraged to make a move into another department so that another manager could step in and make faster changes.
I succumbed to stress and overslept by hours and called work in the afternoon. This was a year after my father’s death, and I received a warning. Six months after that, I overslept and called in at 15:00. I was released the following Monday, with no allowed discussion. I tried to object, but was shut down. They gave me a decent severance, so at least I didn’t feel abandoned.
But I was unemployed, alone, in my father’s house.
A week later, the furnace failed. I cashed in my 401K to get a replacement, as it was November and the temperature was dropping at night.
After the furnace failed, the kitchen sink pipes broke. At this same time, my car started having difficulties, and I was unable to drive it. I walked two miles to a home improvement store to buy PVC pipes, then found out I was missing a couple of pieces and had to walk out a second time.
I remained unemployed for 367 days, but I was receiving unemployment and it allowed me to cover all the bills while I tried to figure out the probate thing. Except the lawyer I was talking to stopped responding. I started reading up on how to do it myself, if necessary, and was talking to other lawyers to see about a referral.
During that time my car continued to have minor break downs. I tried to fix each myself, because I didn’t have the money to pay someone else to fix it, but I couldn’t fix it very well. I just kept it limping along, but it was making money real tight.
I would get an interview here or there, but it stopped mattering. As time passed and more people got in line behind me at unemployment, and interviews started focusing on why I was unemployed for so long and not on what skills I had, or abilities I could bring.
Then unemployment ran out, my car had a last problem that I couldn’t afford to fix, and I got behind on mortgage payments.
They foreclosed on my father’s house. I hadn’t been able to get the probate stuff in order. I wasn’t even able to get in contact with the lawyer I was previously talking to. I was frantic looking for a place to go. I had six months before I would be evicted by the sheriff.
By now I was surviving on one meal a day of whatever bargains I could get at the grocery store.
I kept looking for an apartment, but I couldn’t find a place on public transportation that allowed cats and where I could afford the security deposit. Well, at first I could, but every place I found was in the outer suburbs and required I drive lengthy distances to any potential jobs. Well, I had my father’s car, but it was disgustingly fuel inefficient (10 miles to the gallon), took an hour of running to warm up in the winter, and had a seat that leaned 30° towards the window. Later, I just couldn’t afford anything.
So I started looking for a room to stay in with friends. Three chances fell through.
My aunt and cousin came out, and later my mother and brother came up from Florida, and they all helped me go through almost seventy years of belongings in the house. We hauled things out to Goodwill, we threw out many things, we held a week-long garage sale. I evacuated as many things to a storage unit as I could.
Then I got my current job. I’m not doing support, I’m an admin, so there was a little bit of a learning curve.
As time started ticking towards the final move-out, I was frantic. I finally asked another of my father’s friends if I could stay at his place, as he was in a convalescent home while recovering from a nasty fall down his stairs where he had broken his back. He said yes. We agreed I would pay part of his rent, and he even told me that if the doctors wouldn’t let him move back into that apartment, I could stay on.
This gave me a chance to catch up on bills and debts and even put aside some money to get a place, or to assume his apartment.
I began cleaning—as it had stood empty for at least four months before I came in, and mice had gotten into the apartment.
Then the convalescent home started charging him more and more of his Social Security, so I agreed to temporarily assume the full rent. I ended up assuming full rent, full electricity, and every other bill.
Then, last December, he announced he was moving back in and I had until the end of January to move out.
Somehow I collected enough money. I had to make the payment in two pieces, but I got the keys to this place in the final days of January. I used my father’s car to ferry things over in as many trips as I could manage, at least ten trips in one day.
I like my apartment. It’s a studio at the very edge of downtown Saint Paul, it’s on two bus routes and within walking distance of the light rail. It’s sad that the rent on this studio is about what I was paying in mortgage for the house, but the housing crash has really made a mess of economics.
After the final trip of the day, I was so exhausted I didn’t move the car to a safe place to park. It got towed the next morning at around 05:00.
I tracked down who had towed it, and they wanted more than double what the car was worth to release it.
So, now I am really tied to public transportation. I walk a mile to the grocery store once a week, sometimes twice, and carry my groceries in a cooler and/or a backpack so nothing will spoil.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Very early in the year, a major client for my employer went out of business and didn’t pay their bills. I was furloughed in April, to save money.
To avoid more issues, I worked with a friend to remove everything I could from.
As time has gone by, my hours have been increased until I reached 30 hours a week this past month.
I’ve managed to pay back my father’s friend most of the money I owe him, and I’m catching up on bills of my own. I’m hoping beyond hope that I haven’t jinxed anything by posting this.
Things are still very tight. I was behind on a number of bills until this last paycheck, and things will probably be tight for a little while yet. But things are better.
Well, this post has rambled on for quite a while. I’m getting tired of looking at it. I’ve written, rewritten, and edited it forever. But I do feel better getting that out.
For those who have made it this far, thank you for reading. For those that haven’t made it this far, how do you know what this says? For those who skipped down, thanks for visiting my site.
I think I’m going to go do something else now. Thanks, again.